Style of a film star princess

17:00, Apr 24 2012
Grace Kelly exhib
ACCESSORISED: Bendigo Art Gallery has also included a series of film trailers, stills and newsreel footage as part of the exhibition of Grace Kelly's dresses.

A Kelly is once again causing a stir in rural Victoria. However, instead of an Irish bushranger turned outlaw, it's the Hollywood actress who became a Monacan princess who is capturing local hearts and minds.

Grace Kelly is the subject of a new exhibition at the Bendigo Art Gallery and it is already proving to be a runaway success.

Gallery curatorial assistant Simone Bloomfield says around 1000 people a day, many of them from outside the 90,000 strong city, have been streaming into the central Bendigo gallery since the exhibition Grace Kelly: Style Icon opened in early March.

She's not surprised by its success, after all the original exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) attracted more than 200,000 admissions.

But how did Bendigo attract such a high-profile exhibition? Bloomfield says its down to the gallery's relationship with the V&A and the success of the Golden Age of Couture exhibition in 2009 and last year's White Wedding Dress: 200 years of Wedding Fashion (which is about to finish its run at Te Papa).

"Also, the exhibition is co-curated and organised by the Grimaldi Forum [a Monacan exhibition centre named after the ruling family Kelly married into] and they've said that when Princess Grace died [in a car accident in 1982] the family received more letters of condolence from Australia than any other country.

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"It's also said that Prince Albert [Kelly's son] has a great love of this country and his support helped in bringing the exhibition here."

Keen to turn it into a major cultural event, the Bendigo Art Gallery has also included a series of film trailers, stills and newsreel footage as part of the exhibition and has created a programme of activities for both kids and adults including art workshops, talks, morning teas, wine tastings and film screenings.

While most of the exhibition is the same as in London, Bendigo staff took the opportunity to choose a few extra gowns, says Bloomfield.

"Unlike most exhibitions of this type where everything comes on a specific mannequin by sea, for this one they all arrived by air, flat-packed in crates. We then had two V&A staff come and help us unpack and dress the mannequins and an extra conservator flew out to spend three weeks doing all the underpinning and undergarments."

Spread over four of the gallery's main spaces, each focusing on a phase of Kelly's life (actress, bride, princess and enduring icon) the exhibition features more than 100 items, including the Edith Head-designed icy blue-green satin ensemble Kelly wore to the Academy Awards ceremony in 1955 (where she took home the best actress title for her role in The Country Girl), a replica of her Helen Rose-designed wedding dress (the originally is too fragile to travel) and the floral print silk taffeta dress she wore when she first met her future husband, Prince Rainier, in Cannes in May 1955.

"Because of a power cut in her hotel it was the only dress she could wear for the meeting because it didn't need ironing," says Bloomfield.

It was this kind of practical thinking when it came to her wardrobe – "I just buy clothes when they take my eye and I wear them for years," she is quoted as saying – that made Kelly such a style icon.

Despite being known as the embodiment of female perfection (most men of a certain age remember her negligee and the "preview of coming attractions" she gave a wheelchair-bound Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window) and sporting the tiniest of waists, Kelly never flaunted her assets, flatly refusing to divulge her vital statistics and preferring good grooming and simple, uncluttered clothing to anything "flashy".

Those in the know describe her "look" as cool elegance and assured but understated, and it inspired many American and European women to go out and buy easy shirt-waist dresses, cleverly detailed tweed suits or chiffon evening dresses.

Later, her maternity wardrobe revolutionised what was acceptable for those "in the family way".

Kelly was equally influential when it came to accessories. A Hermes Haut a Courroies bag she toted around Cannes in 1956 became known as the "Kelly bag", she brought hats and white gloves back into vogue and also embraced her nearsightedness by wearing horned-rimmed spectacles at many events (at one stage she owned 45 pairs of glasses created by London's Oliver Goldsmith).

Providing fashion advice to young stars and royals (including Princess Diana) up until her death, Kelly's influence can still be seen on fashion pages and catwalks today (Kate Middleton's wedding dress was a prime example) and Bendigo Art Gallery's wonderful exhibition allows viewers to trace the development of her style from its very beginning.

Grace Kelly: Style Icon is on display at the Bendigo Art Gallery until June 17.

The writer travelled to Victoria with the assistance of Tourism Victoria and Tourism Australia.

More at visitmelbourne.com/nz or australia.com.

The Dominion Post